Take it from me, a standards veteran: these bodies are worth engaging with

Insights from Tommy Cook, CEO, Calnex

Standards Success Stories: Tommy Cook

At Calnex, we’re not just in the business of standards: standards is our business. We help businesses meet the sometimes stringent but always significant conditions required of the telecoms industry’s assorted standards bodies.

Technology standards are a vital part of any thriving technical industry, not to mention an essential part of the densely interconnected telecoms sector.

This wasn’t always my guiding belief, of course. No one is born knowing what standards are. In the early years of building my business, I spent countless hours investigating standards body meetings — not always 100% sure there would be value in doing so. Often, I’d hustle my way in if I was unable to pay the membership fees. I was running a start-up after all.

Over the past nearly 20 years, the value that engaging with standards can bring to SMEs has crystallised a lot more in my mind.

At the cutting edge of technology

At their best, standards bodies can represent the collegiate spirit of innovation, and striving for the absolute best. They are not places for bluff or puffery. They are gatherings of some of the most senior technical experts in any given field. 

When I was first establishing Calnex, spending time listening in on the conversations held at standards meetings was priceless as it indicated the direction of the industry — and hence where business opportunities may exist. 

And the more time I spent within the telecoms standards ecosystem, the more I found I was sitting at the cutting edge of the field. By being there, and engaging, I was making valuable connections with people who might otherwise be inaccessible. It’s hard to put a price on that level of networking, and the expertise you tap into in the process.

More than networking

Building a business can be an isolating endeavour. Meanwhile, getting ahead is often dependent on the connections you’re making. Standards meetings can square that circle. Engaging with standards needn’t simply be for validation of performance (though that’s important, obviously): it can be a tactical arm of your company’s development.

Beyond the networking opportunities on offer, engaging with standards can open up new ways of thinking about and developing your business model. With more access to technical thinkers in the industry’s upper echelons, you begin to better understand how and where your technology might fit in to the wider offerings being driven by bigger players. Having your product of interest to industry leaders like BT or Deutsche Telekom, for instance, can provide strong indications of the market potential.

Help is out there

The world of standards can be a daunting one. This is true of all sectors, but perhaps especially so in telecoms. 

There are close to 80,000 patent families in the ETSI IPR Online Database; more than 1,700 3GPP specifications exist, and the latest 3GPP release, number 17, boasts over 300 work items and studies alone.

The positive news is that there is plenty of help out there to help you to navigate this ecosystem. Open standards forums run by the likes of the NICC and BSI in the UK offer a way in at the ground floor, and UKTIN has a wealth of resources on offer to begin to understand the role standards play in our industry, as well as a dedicated Standards Expert Working Group tasked with coaching small and medium-sized businesses through the process.

Important to remember is that no two SMEs will have the same standards journey. How you incorporate standards into your business strategy will be unique to your own development plan. But keeping sight of those sometimes intangible benefits — the connections made, insights gained, curiosity tested — is advice I would give to any ambitious up-and-comer.

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